cover image The Pumpkin Runner

The Pumpkin Runner

Marsha Diane Arnold. Dial Books, $17.99 (32pp) ISBN 978-0-8037-2124-1

Though he may have the appearance of a tall tale hero, Arnold's (Heart of a Tiger) protagonist is inspired by a real 61-year-old Australian farmer who won a 542-mile race in 1983. Joshua Summerhayes, an eccentric sheep farmer from Blue Gum Creek, and his sidekick, Yellow Dog, enter the 12th annual Koala-K Race from Melbourne to Sydney. With the help of energizing slices of pumpkins that grow ""round as a wombat's belly,"" they finish first together and share the $10,000 prize money with the other runners. Arnold's loquacious storyteller style and the farmer's aw-shucks humility lend a hardy, ageless humor to the somewhat meandering plot. Sneed (Smoky Mountain Rose) revels in the contrasts between the farmer's sense of generosity and his workaday attire, set against depictions of the single-mindedness and swaggering bravado of the other runners in their fancy shoes and shorts. When the villain, Damien Dodgerelle, brags that he has ""run two hundred kilometers a week for three months training for this race,"" Joshua says simply, ""I just check my herds, from sunup to sundown."" As the other runners lift 300-pound weights, perform one-handed push-ups and drink power fluids, Joshua stands in his blue bib overalls and orange gum boots and eats pumpkin stew--and runs for the love of it. Sneed's cleverly skewed perspectives and Arnold's engaging style make this book, like its star, an easy winner. Ages 4-8. (Sept.)